The importance of Collaboration in our Business

So far this year has been about milestones. The start of 2013 was the start of our photography business’s 4th year of trading. April will be my 5th year of living back in the UK full-time after a life on the high seas working on cruise ships and in February my wife and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary.

Actually I could continue, March is our 3rd year photographing 90% babies (and being a member of the MPA).

In January I was a speaker at The Societies annual Photography convention for the 2nd year and just the other week it was the 1st year I was invited to speak at an International Women’s Day conference.


London City Hall event group


Those six years have been eventful to say the least but I couldn’t have achieved any of those milestones without a great collaboration.


In my life my wife is my top collaborator of course. When we worked on ships as an officer she outranked me on dry land she has continued much with the same theme. She also does the books for our business, something that I would put on the top of any outsourcing list.

London City Hall event Michael Shilling

Memory Gate itself is a partnership of Marcin’s Photoshop wizardry, web design prowess and my own humble awesomeness. We wouldn’t be photographing so many babies without the collaboration with the MPA and I wouldn’t be speaking at events without the support from the community at the SWPP or Monica from London Mums.


But let me go back to the beginning for a moment.


I spent 5 years at sea so when I decided that I wanted to leave and start my own business I realised that I would have to begin completely from scratch. I had no money, no contacts and very limited equipment so I knew it was going to be a slow process getting started.


After Marcin and I decided that we were going to change the world with beautiful imagery (or at least take some pretty pictures and hope that someone will pay money for them) the next part was finding work. That, I was shocked to discover, wasn’t as easy as I thought. I’ve got a website, business cards and fancy flyers, so why isn’t anyone calling?


The one thing that did help us was collaboration with other businesses and one of the first companies we worked with was Eddie Catz Limited. We started off photographing their Christmas and Halloween events and went on to photograph products for their website.


Then we started to meet more people one of whom was Monica from London Mums. We began by photographing a few events and from there we went on to completely redesigning the London Mums website and offering social media support and advice. In return Monica has introduced us to many new clients, we’ve got some awesome goodie bags and the other week I was sitting next to Boris Johnson about to give a talk to 250 women in City Hall.

Michael Shilling Maria Johnson

All of that came from one phone call from Maria at Eddie Catz asking if I could help her out with something.


As a rule I like to make time to help others, and of course, that help doesn’t always come free. In my mind you need a certain degree of trust between both parties and that does take time to build and to nurture.


I also think that if you dispense advice or assistance then you shouldn’t expect to be instantly rewarded, unless of course if you ask to be rewarded (or paid). Expectations do need to be managed though and I think it’s worth stating your intentions early on in any collaborative project.


I like to consider all of the different people I’ve worked with over the past few years not just as collaborators but as partners. We all have the same goal and that is to make our businesses succeed. When there are many hands pulling the reins and greasing the blades then a sledge has less drag (to use a random metaphor).


At times I’ve worked with companies that have been in business longer than I have been alive, some turn over more money a year than I could hope for in a lifetime whereas others are just starting out. The point is we shouldn’t ignore others when they either offer or ask for advice just because they aren’t at the same level as us (whatever that means). Most people can offer most people something and even if they can’t, they might one day, or could even know someone who can today.


That is why I think collaboration is one the most valuable investments you can make in your business.



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